Everyone should experience driving around Iceland at least once in their lifetime. This is on every Icelander’s bucket list and you can’t call yourself an Icelander until you’ve gone on the ultimate road trip around the country. Iceland has one main road, Route 1 or what is commonly known as the Ring Road. It circumnavigates our island allowing travelers to easily navigate to many points of interest. While one could easily spend many weeks exploring the incredible destinations just off the Ring Road it’s not likely that you will have the time to do so. That’s why we’ve put together the perfect Ring Road itinerary. It includes all the must-see attractions, natural wonders, majestic landscapes, and the unique characteristics Iceland has to offer.
Day 1: Arrival in Iceland
Ok, day one! It is time to start your Iceland adventure that you have been dreaming of for so long. After landing at Keflavik airport, the next step will be to pick up your rental car and head for the road. If you’re taking a road trip with us, be sure to check your travel documents in advance for the name of your car rental company. The car rental desks are just past baggage claim and customs.
Relax at the world-famous Blue Lagoon
You did not think we would leave this magical place out, did you? This should be your first stop when you drive from the airport. It is located only 15 kilometers away and thus its the best place to get shrug off that jet lag. The Blue Lagoon is the perfect place to dive into your first geothermal pool on your Iceland adventure and believe us when we say that it is such a unique experience.
The Blue Lagoon routine
There is a special Blue Lagoon wellness routine that you should try which goes as follows. Protect your hair by lathering conditioner in your hair and LEAVE it in, go into the lagoon and after about 30 minutes make your way to the sauna. The next step is to try the ultra cleansing and exfoliation silica mud mask which you leave on for about 10 minutes and then rinse it of in the lagoon. Be extra careful not to get any mineral-rich lagoon water or the mask in your eyes, otherwise it will sting! (Contact lens wearers should be especially careful of this!)
Explore the Mars-like wonders of Reykjanes peninsula
So many people make the mistake of not exploring the otherworldly landscapes of the Reykjanes peninsula, which will actually be your first point of contact when you arrive in Iceland. Be prepared to be stunned by the sights of an endless lava field covered in gray-green moss and feel like you have landed on another planet. To learn more about what are the must-see attractions on the Reykjanes peninsula read our blog.
Experience charming Reykjavik
The rest of the day will be spent in Reykjavik. The city is very much alive and there is so much to do. We recommend a stroll downtown where you can see the most famous landmarks like Hallgrimskirkja and Harpa concert hall, or perhaps explore one of the city’s many museums. Make sure you stop for a cup of coffee in one of our cute cafés on our main street, Laugavegur and just enjoy the fun atmosphere and colorful houses that the city has to offer.
Ideal day tours for day 1
Day 2: Explore the famous Golden Circle
Today you will drive away from the city noise and into the calm and peaceful country side!
Hveragerdi- “The Flower village”
Start by driving south to the geothermal town Hveragerdi, the gateway town to South Iceland. It’s set in a large geothermal area and is often referred to as the ‘flower village’, because of the many greenhouses there. Without a doubt Hveragerdi’s most precious gem is the geothermal park. There cannot be many towns in the world with hot springs literally in people’s back yard.
Hike up to Reykjadalur Valley
If you have the time, we recommend that you take a hike up to Reykjadalur valley. It is the most popular and arguably the most beautiful hiking area in Iceland. It’s hot springs and colorful areas full of geothermal activity make it an unique hiking trail which leads to a hot river where you can bathe in.
Walk along the tectonic rift in Thingvellir national park
From Hveragerdi your next stop will be the first stop along the Golden Circle route, Thingvellir. It was named a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 2004. It is most famous for being the visible site of the mid-Atlantic ridge where the north America and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, and are being pulled apart at a rate of 2 centimeters (nearly an inch) per year. Make sure you have some time to walk around and explore the rift, the Thingvellir church and Oxararfoss waterfall.
Geysir geothermal area- Spouting geysers
Your second stop along the Golden Circle will be to see the highly active Geysir hot spring area with boiling mud pits and Strokkur geyser which spouts water 30 meters up in the air every few minutes. One other thing we recommend is that you visit the café and try the rye bread – which is more like a molasses pound cake than bread- that has been cooking underground in a hot spring for 24 hours. It will be one of the yummiest things you will ever taste!
Gullfoss- “The Golden Waterfall”
Your last stop along the Golden Circle is the breathtaking Gullfoss waterfall. A narrow path provides close-up views of the massive, two-tiered waterfall. It is just beautiful but just keep in mind that if you plan on walking up to the waterfall you will get wet so keep your rain coat close!
Soak in a Geothermal pool
One thing you will learn on your travels is that after a long day of exploring there is nothing more satisfying than a visit to one of the Icelandic pools, relax, and prepare for the next busy travel day. There are two pools we recommend that you go to in this area: Laugarvatn fontana or the Secret Lagoon in Fludir.
Ideal day tours for day 2
- Snowmobile tour on Langjokull Glacier from Gullfoss
- Standard Lava Tunnel Tour (from Basecamp)
- Horse Riding Tour in South Iceland (from Sydra Langholt Farm)
Day 3: Drive along the epic South Shore of Iceland
Get ready to experience some of the most beautiful natural attractions in Iceland, walk behind a waterfall, explore a black sand beach and drive past the world-famous volcano, Eyjafjallajokull.
Seljalandsfoss- The waterfall that you can walk behind
Your first stop of the day will be at Seljalandsfoss. You can walk behind the waterfall but just make sure you have your rain coat on because you will get wet. The waterfall is very photogenic so also make sure you have your camera ready. Close to Seljalandsfoss there is another waterfall called Gljufrabui that tends to be overlooked but is definitely worth a visit.
Skogafoss- At the cliffs of a former coastline
If you are a fan of waterfalls, a drive along the south shore is perfect for you! You see, the next stop is also a waterfall! Skogafoss waterfall is located on the cliffs of the former coastline. Perhaps the most interesting thing about Skogafoss is that its water comes directly from two of Iceland’s most famous glaciers, Eyjafjallajokull and Myrdalsjokull. Well, that or the story about its hidden treasure, which has yet to be found…
Before you reach the peaceful seafront village of Vik a stop at Dyrholaey, a naturally formed arch on the cliff, is ideal. Dyrholaey is a former island of volcanic origin, created by an eruption thousands of years ago. Driving up to Dyrholaey will award you with an awe-inspiring view of the south coast. From Dyraholaey you can actually see your next destination, Reynisfjara black sand beach.
Reynisfjara black sand beach
Iceland is not famous for sunny, tropical beaches, but do have spectacular beaches worth visiting! Reynisfjara beach is where Reynisdrangar rock formations are located and it was voted as one of the top ten beautiful non-tropical beaches in the world. Please be aware even though this is one of the most beautiful places you will ever see it can also be a dangerous one. The waves at Reynisfjara are especially strong and unpredictable, so you must be careful. A good rule of thumb is to never turn your back to the ocean, even though it may seem calm.
The peaceful seafront Village of Vik
Vik is Iceland’s most southerly village and one of the most photographed areas in the country. This will be your last stop of the day, so enjoy this charming village and prepare for your next busy travel day.
Ideal day tours for day 3
- Fast-track ice cave tour
- Icelandic lava show
- Snowmobiling on Myrdalsjokull Glacier (from Basecamp)
- Glacier Discovery – Solheimajokull Glacier Walking Tour (from Basecamp)
Day 4: Explore the eastern part of the South Coast
It’s time to head east! On this day you will drive past the largest glacier in Europe Vatnajokull, explore a canyon and see the incredible Jokulsarlon Glacier lagoon.
From Vik you will drive on route 1 until you reach the massive ancient river canyon, Fjadrargljufur, which is approximately 2 million years old. After walking the beautiful path at Fjadrargljufur, head east until you come across the small village, Kirkjubaejarklaustur. If you drive a little further you will find a small river, by the river, a trail will lead you to a small and lesser known waterfall called Stjornarfoss. On warm summer days you might see locals bathing and playing in the pool beneath the waterfall.
Skaftafell national park
Not many know this, but the eastern part of the south coast is actually a hiker’s paradise. Your next stop will be Skaftafell national park, where you will find some of the most beautiful hiking trails in Iceland, we recommend the short walk up to Svartifoss waterfall.
Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
On Iceland’s south coast you will also find the ever changing Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon, where blue, white, turquoise and black streaked icebergs shift and creak about in an icy dance. The icebergs are 1,000-year-old chunks from Oraefajokull glacier that have broken off and are floating out to sea. The lagoon is quite grand, and you might have seen it appear in some major feature films and programs including ‘Batman Begins’ and most recently ‘Game of Thrones.’
Just below the famous Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon you will find a black volcanic sand beach sprinkled with icebergs of all sizes. These icebergs look like giant pieces of diamond sitting on the black beach, which is why many tourists call the beach the Diamond beach. Don’t forget to take a walk among the diamond icebergs and get some great photos to share with people at home!
Hofn in Hornafjordur town
Your last stop of the day will be the lovely town of Hofn in Hornafjordur. The town is dominated by Europe’s biggest glacier, Vatnajokull, which towers over this region and has immensely affected the landscape.
Ideal day tours for day 4
Day 5: Drive along the stunning coastline of East Iceland
East Iceland’s breathtaking fjords and charming fishing villages will be on your itinerary today! You will experiencing extraordinary palette of colors and this is where you can truly experience tranquility with nature.
Djupivogur- A bird watchers dream
Notice when you are driving that the road takes you by towering mountains until you reach your first stop, Djupivogur. This stunning fishing town is beautifully situated on the east cost and it is a popular stop for the enthusiastic bird watcher.
Petra’s Stone Collection
The next stop we are going to recommend might seem strange. In the small fjord of Stodvafjordur you’ll find a wonderful collection of rare rocks and minerals. We can thank the efforts of a local enthusiast Petra Sveinsdottir for this impressive collection. She began her collection in 1946, and in 1974 Petra decided to open up her collection to the general public. Her wonderful world of rocks is now reputedly the world’s largest private collection of rocks and is one of the main tourist attractions in the region.
Seydisfjordur- A pretty village with multicolored houses
A short detour will take you to one of the prettiest towns in Iceland, Seydisfjordur. But before you reach the town we recommend that you stop by one of the most impressive waterfalls in the country called Klifbrekkufossar. After viewing the waterfall keep driving until you reach Seydisfjodur which is a town booming with creativity and rich in history. With 700 people, a vibrant art scene and stunning hiking trail all around, Seydisfjordur is a must-visit. It was even picked as one of Lonely Planet’s top destinations to visit in Iceland.
You might also want to check out the third highest waterfall in Iceland, Hengifoss. It is mainly eye-catching due to the striking red clay and black basalt patterns of the cliff face that make a pretty backdrop for the narrow ribbon of water cascading down. As with several other waterfalls in country, there is the possibility to climb behind the waterfall and there is a small cave nearby to explore as well. End the day in the largest town in East Iceland, Egilsstadir.
Ideal day tours for day 5
Day 6: Explore the highlights of the ‘Diamond Circle’ of North Eastern Iceland
Start out from Egilsstadir, the town situated on the banks of Lagarfljot river, home to the lake monster Lagarfljotsormurinn (Lagarfljot worm). Spotting the monster is, of course, a national sport but we do not recommend spending too much time there because you have a beautiful day ahead of you packed with natures treats.
Dettifoss- Thundering waterfall
You drive to the beautiful Modrudalsoraefi highlands towards Europe’s most powerful waterfall, Dettifoss (approx. 44 m/ 144 feet tall and around 100 m/ 328 feet wide). Its name literally means “The Collapsing Waterfall”. And because one waterfall a day just isn’t enough, we strongly recommend you to visit the neighboring waterfall Selfoss, which is less than 10-minute drive away.
Asbyrgi Canyon- Wonder of Nature
After this refreshing encounter with thundering water, your next stop is the peaceful Asbyrgi canyon. This gigantic horseshoe-shaped rock formation is one of Iceland‘s wonders of nature.
Hljodaklettar- The “Echo Rocks”
If you have a little time, we recommend a short stop at the Hljodaklettar rock formations, a peculiar cluster of columnar rock formations – like nature’s piece of art! Hljodaklettar or “Echo Rock” derives its name from its acoustic effect, we recommend you try it out, why not burst into song?
Husavik- Whale capital of Iceland
Next stop would be Husavik, a small fishing village often called the capital of whale watching! So if you have time for a whale watching tour, we highly recommend it!
Myvatn Nature Baths
Now you’ve had a fun-filled day and you deserve to pamper yourself a little. A nice relaxing bath in the Myvatn nature baths is just the perfect end to your day. Lake Myvatn is one of Iceland’s most popular destinations, known for its rich flora and fauna.
Ideal day tours for day 6
- Husavik Original Whale Watching and Puffins
- Big Whale Safari and Puffins in RIB boats (from Husavik)
- Environmental Friendly Whale Watching tour from Husavik
Day 7: Explore the capital of the North
On this day you will be able to explore the beautiful natural wonders surrounding Lake Myvatn before you head on over to Akureyri.
Dimmuborgir- The dark castles
From Myvatn your first destination will be Dimmuborgir Lava fields. Dimmuborgir translated mean “dark castles” but there is actually nothing dark about it! Walking around this extraordinary place is something else, some of the rock formations reach up to 20 meters (65 ft ) in height and their shape is can appear unearthly and alien looking.
Hverfjall- High tephra explosion crater
This 396 meters (1,300 ft) high crater or tuff ring volcano is located near the eastern shore of Lake Myvatn. We recommend that you walk up to the crater’s rim to enjoy the stunning view of the surrounding landscape.
Krafla- Surreal Landscapes
Your next stop will be to view the surreal landscapes of the lava fields Krafla. The most fascinating thing about this particular lava fields is that it is still warm since the “Krafla Fires” of the 1970s and 1980s.
Godafoss- The Waterfall of the gods
Before you head over to Akureyri we have one more stop that involves one of the most impressing waterfalls in the country, Godafoss. It is located right between Lake Myvatn and Akureyri. The waterfall’s name would literally be translated “The waterfall of the gods”, powerful, right? You will want to take some time to enjoy watching the ice-blueglacier water flow over a semi-circular arch creating blue-green patterns in the water. It really is a divine experience!
Akureyri – The capital of the North
It is time to head over to the City of Akureyri, often called the capital of the north. It is the third largest city in Iceland and a very popular destination among locals during winter to go skiing. The city is located at the bottom of stunning Eyjafjordur fjord only 96 kilometers (60 mi) away from the arctic circle. Make sure you take a stroll downtown and maybe even visit the Christmas house which is open all year.
Ideal day tours for day 7
Day 8: Head back towards Reykjavik
This day will be spent driving back to Reykjavik where we recommend that you spend your last night. But not so fast, we have a few places that you have to stop along the way and enjoy.
From Akureyri, you will head towards Borgarfjordur. Borgarfjodur is known as the setting for most of the Icelandic sagas with the landscape, nature, and culture reflecting this heritage and bringing history to life. Make a stop at the waterfall Glanni and walk a little bit further where you will discover Paradisarlaut or Paradise Hollow. This place makes for the perfect picnic stop during summer time and according to many Icelanders, it is one of Iceland’s best-kept secrets.
It is time to hurry back to Reykjavik to spend the rest of the day in our charming city.
Ideal day tours for day 8
Day 9: Departure
The adventure has come to an end and it is time to head back home! If you did not have time to visit the Blue Lagoon on your arrival day this is the time to do so if your flight is not too early.
And that‘s it! We hope this ultimate ring road itinerary will come in handy when you are planning your road trip in Iceland. This itinerary was inspired by one of our most popular ring road tours, the Ring Road Express road trip. If you are interested you can check it out here!